Managing Medication in the Elderly

by: Maria Licoudis, R.N. & Care Manager

Seniors, aged 65 or older, are the largest consumers of medications and often take multiple types. Proper medication management and preventing possible adverse side effects, is critical when caring for the elderly. Unfortunately, because of the large volume of medications prescribed by physicians combined with the use of other supplements and vitamins, overmedication and drug interactions are common.

Seniors sometimes have a difficult time keeping their medication schedule correct. The main problems are that they take too little, take none at all, administer their medication at the wrong time, or perhaps mix their medications with other medications or supplements that they shouldn’t combine them with. Everyone should be very careful and diligent when organizing their medications. Proper medication management is even more critical with the senior population. Declines in memory, hearing, vision, hand eye coordination and strength, put seniors’ more at risk when handling medication.

Family members and caregivers, play a crucial role in ensuring that medications are administered safely and correctly.

Safe medication management tools for family and caregivers include:

  1. Arranging for your pharmacy to organize medications in a pill dispenser, called a dispill. Caregivers can then remind and help administer the medication as prescribed (at the appropriate time, with or without food, etc,).
  2. senior dispill medication holder
  3. Reading the pharmacy label and details from the pharmacist, each and every time medication is administered. Pay close attention to the name of the medication, time to be given, and any other pertinent instructions. Read the fine print and the detailed medication sheet provided by the pharmacist.
  4. Making sure you “brown bag” all the medications, supplements and vitamins when attending a doctor’s appointment. This means bringing them with you when attending a doctor’s appointment. This is critical as some medications may be discontinued. As well, make sure to let the doctor know how much your family member weighs, as this may also affect the dosage required.
  5. Having an up-to- date and accurate list of medications and supplements, on hand and easily accessible at all times. This list should be brought to all doctor appointments, or when a hospitalization occurs.
  6. Reading up on drug interaction and asking questions at the doctor’s office and at the pharmacy.
  7. Always knowing the name of the medication, who prescribed it, frequency, side effects, special instructions, dosage and why it is being given. Always listen to complaints from your family member regarding medication. Older people metabolize differently so they may have more adverse side effects.
  8. Speaking to the pharmacist about simplifying the dosing and times of the schedule. Try to use only one pharmacy in order to build a relationship with the staff there and to maintain continuity and follow-up of your file.
  9. Being observant to physical and cognitive changes. Falls, fractures and disorientation can be linked to side effects.
  10. Clients with Alzheimer’s/dementia/physical immobility cannot take their own medication. If a family member cannot always administer the medication, a caregiver can be hired to help administer and ensure that medications are being given at the appropriate times.
  11. When administering medication, give it whole, crushed or mixed depending on their swallowing capabilities. Ask the pharmacist which medications can and cannot be crushed. Always keep a medication checklist, to tick off or sign, that medication was administered.
  12. Always remember that the elderly are very vulnerable to drug side effects and interactions. We must always supervise and report their physical and cognitive abilities and any changes so that medication can be adjusted accordingly.

Note: This information is for informative purposes only. Always check with a medical professional.


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